Kumar Sangakarra’s Lecture

I just listened to Kumar Sangakarra’s Lord’s Lecture, an hour-long address every cricket-loving fan should download. It’s a truly ambitious speech that seeks to cover the history of Sri Lanka’s cricket, especially from 1996 to present. While most of the reaction has focused on Sangakarra’s criticism of Sri Lanka Cricket, the governing board, he devotes (by my count) about 10 minutes to the current administration’s foibles.

Say what you want about Sangakarra, but he is a smart man. He spends most of his address couching his criticism in strongly nationalist terms, offering ode after ode to Sri Lanka’s special “identity” and the greatness of players like Sanath Jayasuriya (now a political bigwig indulging the very tactics Sangakarra deplores in his speech). He was careful enough to cover all his bases, and now that he’s likely to be recalled by the Sports Minister, he can point to other moments in his text for his defense.

But what a history! Listening to the speech, you get a sense of the difficulty of being an international player from a South Asian country, especially due to the enlarged role of politics in almost everything you do, from the petty to the fundamental. Imagine a player like Murali: an Indian Tamil in a war-torn country; a much-hated figure in the West, constantly challenged abroad, but also scrutinized at every level at home. Consider this team’s recent past as well — a tsunami; a terrorist attack (described in vivid detail by Sangakarra); and the brutal end of the civil war.

I do have some quick notes and questions: 1) Sangakarra speaks often of a Sri Lankan ‘way’ of playing cricket. It’s true that part of cricket’s charm is its diversity, and people in the West Indies used to play differently from those in, say, India. It’s an open question, however, if that diversity will survive the game’s modernization, driven by coaches with video data and disciplined physiotherapists. What are we losing here?

1A) A related, but more difficult, question is whether or not such talk — like all nationalisms — stems from a crude and essentialist description of self-image. Is there really a Sri Lankan way of playing cricket? Is there an Indian style? If I were to describe it, would I risk setting up particular categories that seek to exclude as much as include? I understand the impulse — we want to set up our identity after centuries of colonization, whose chief discourse involved an unrelenting attack on local cultures. But need we construct false identities in response?

2) Part of the attraction of Sangakarra’s speech is his discussion of the Sri Lankan dressing room. In the early 2000s, he suggests that the team was driven by hierarchies and a collection of individuals, some of who “crossed the line” by interfering with the board and selectors. He then goes on to discuss Sri Lanka’s failing club structure, and the huge discretion afforded to its Sports Minister, who can dismiss whole teams on a whim. I wish more players would say what he did. It’s a huge risk, but imagine someone of Dravid or Tendulkar or Laxman’s stature making similar noises in India. Or is that a risk too big to take, even for them?


12 thoughts on “Kumar Sangakarra’s Lecture

  1. […] more to treasure than his much spoken about criticism of SL Board the corruption and politics. As ducking beamers highlights in the fine review of Sangakarra’s speech on his blog the SL Board criticism lasts for about 10 minutes in the 1 hour […]

  2. kaprashoo says:

    hard to stomach a lecture on the spirit of cricket from a man who conspired to deny sehwag a century by ordering his bowler to bowl a no ball. also hypocritical to have snide digs an india yet only too happy to pocket an ipl salary.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      This is what’s known, Kaprashoo, as an ‘ad hominem ‘ attack. Rather than deal with the content of an argument, you attack the person who makes it. Such a tactic is rarely convincing.

      For one thing, I’m still not certain about what role Sangakarra had in the no-ball controversy. He says he regretted it, but he left enough ambiguity about his own role — whether or not he actually ordered Randiv to do what he did is still unclear in my mind (though I’m willing to look at new evidence).

      Secondly, I’m not sure what ‘snide digs’ you’re talking about. I listened to the speech and he didn’t say all that much about India. What are you talking about? And your note about taking a salary from the IPL: say you play for Sri Lanka Cricket, but you know that it’s a corrupt organization. Does your participation in it immediately make you an accessory to the corruption?

      These are subtle and difficult questions, and I’m not sure you’re up to dealing with them. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Interesting point about whether specific national styles will survive the era of professionalism. I suppose it comes down to the question of whether there is a “superior” way of playing the game. At the moment, the good news is that there is still variety aplenty.

    On another note, we profiled Ducking Beamers in our most recent podcast (the discussion comes 32 minutes into episode 15). Would be great if you could get send us an email as we are looking to do some phone interviews with several bloggers.

  4. Ram says:

    Don’t understand why you refer to Murali as Indian Tamil, those differentiations from sri-lankan tamils were mostly things of the past and do not fit into context.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Ram, see this discussion: https://duckingbeamers.wordpress.com/2008/05/31/the-passion-of-muralitharan/

      My understanding is that ‘Indian Tamil’ refers to a specific group within the larger Sri Lankan community. Don’t know if Sri Lankans care about such categories or not, but I thought I’d be as specific as possible.

      • Serendib says:

        Murali is a so-called “Indian Tamil”, I think the PC term now in Sri Lanka is “Upcountry Tamil” (referring to where most of them reside) as all Tamils of Indian origin in Sri Lanka now have Sri Lankan citizenship and referring to them as “Indian” is both divisive and incorrect. Murali’s grandparents were from Tamil Nadu and they settled in Sri Lanka long ago.

        The distinction made between Upcountry Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka is quite clear – for example, Upcountry Tamils have no connection whatsoever with the separatist struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils and their representatives have always been a part of the ruling government.

      • duckingbeamers says:

        Thanks for the info, Serendib. I was actually under the impression that the term ‘Indian Tamil’ referred to a group of Indian laborers who came to Sri Lanka more recently than other Tamils; that is, they were brought in to work tea plantations by the British in the late 19th-century. This separates them from the larger Sri Lankan Tamil community, which, of course, has a longer history on the island.

        But I see how calling Murali an Indian Tamil — even in this sense — would be seen as politically incorrect.

      • Serendib says:

        The British did bring indentured labourers from India to work on their tea plantations in central Sri Lanka. The vast majority of them were Tamil, with a tiny smattering of Telugus and Malayalis. They were known as “Indian Tamils” to differentiate them from the “Ceylon Tamils” or “Sri Lankan Tamils” who are known to have a longer history in the island. Some of the Tamils who were brought over by the British oversaw the tea plantations and their workers. The use of the term “Indian Tamil” or “Indian origin Tamil” has now fallen out of favour in Sri Lanka because none of them have Indian citizenship anymore, and the vast majority have been born and brought up in Sri Lanka (like Murali). The only recent “Sri Lankan Tamil” in the Sri Lankan cricket team has been Russel Arnold.

      • The NikScoop says:

        Check out my version of this article here. http://thirdmancricket.com/?p=202

        In response to your questions, I quite enjoy the “Sri lankan” way of cricket. To me, they play with flair, with a positive attitude, with unorthodox bowlers, energetic fielders and batsmen with almost unmatched hand-eye coordination. Gotta love it, can’t question it in my book.

  5. […] Ducking Beamers, I would recommend just downloading the PDF of the transcript of Sangakkara’s speech as you […]

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